I have a way of opening the front door to my apartment almost any morning, including wintry ones, though the practice is more frequent this time of year. At night, the warm duvet that sufficed through April has begun to overpower me. I am slightly too warm. It is almost pleasant to throw the thing off and feel May. Which is finally what it should be. The morning air does not assault. In fact, I welcome it in the open door, a temperate breeze wafting through the screen while I make tea in the kitchen.
This open door policy says much about my circumstances here on Roble Avenue. Fifty meters off the street. The direct view of traffic largely obscured by a big blue spruce. Quiet. Off-the-beaten-track. Straight down the wheelchair ramp and across the sidewalk that separates my four-plex from the next my neighbors present a blank stillness. None of them seem to depart for work at an early hour. At least not at this hour, 6:30 AM, the kettle roaring and tea imminent. What I can hear, even from the kitchen is the sound of morning nature. Once the water has boiled and splashed into the cup, the whole apartment fills with squirrels rustling in the overgrown hedges, the wind swinging a rusty gate, birds cawing and crying.
“Paul, I need assistance. I need some assistance here.” My tea is half brewed, but I am complete in my nakedness. It says something about my state of emotional preoccupation these days that the sound of the voice at my front door asking for help sends barely a ripple through my being. It is Jules, from across the way. I not only recognize his voice, but in a general way, recognize his situation. Which always seems precarious. I ignore him for a second. “Paul, I need assistance.”
Okay. Without much thought, I throw a tea towel over my crotch and roll to the front door. Yes, it is Jules. He says his boyfriend pushed him down. His words are slurred and distant, and he seems reluctant to look too long at the naked old man in the wheelchair. At times like this, I wish I knew a bit more about alcohol and drugs. Just enough to understand what’s going on in the outside world. But I know what I know. Jules is here, and now he is opening the screen door to give me his keys. He wants me to have his keys, he says, without further explanation. I do know one thing, and this is either the consequence of high emotion or being high period. That everything transpiring by my screen door is symbolic. There is no assistance that can be exchanged here, except in the broadest sense. These keys, which are attached to what appears to be a large and elaborate bottle opener or knife, have no useful purpose residing with me. Jules tells me he is heading up to San Francisco. I have refused to take his keys. He seems very disappointed, not to mention abandoned and bereft. When he wanders away, I do not close the door. Which surprises me. I mean, why encourage this, whatever this is? The latter question seems tantalizing and just. People get into various states of crisis. I see this in Jane’s work on a regular basis. Nothing odd, and no reason to close the door. I am safe in this apartment. But safe does not mean immune from life. My open-door policy. Why not?
Once the computer is warmed up, another door opens, the one that leads directly to Britain. Some part of my mind is always given over to this portal. Why, is not entirely clear to me. On this particular occasion, I scan my e-mails for word from a man in Newcastle who sells disabled vans and, after a successful prodding from me, has agreed to rent one for a week in June. The next UK trip. And at this juncture it does appear that all the foundational structures are in place. Wheelchair transport being the most tricky.
I have a pleasant moment contemplating our June morning departure from London. How we are wisely staying almost next door to Kings Cross Station. How with the greatest of ease, and at minimal expense, we can pop across the street from our Novotel to have perfectly acceptable coffee and granola at the Pret a Manger. ‘Which one’ being the logical question, and this does not detract at all from the pleasant anticipation. For there are so many things bound up in this. That I love both Jane and London, and here these experiences are combined in a pleasant history. Also, that I have managed to make travel easier on both of us. Hell, I can even operate the wheelchair lift at the entrance to the Novotel St. Pancras myself.
And the future. Oddly, there seems more of one in Britain. I do regret not being able to begin this Newcastle trip at St. Pancras Station, the one that has been tarted up beyond recognition, the old Northern Hotel finally reopened as a sort of restored palace. But maybe not. Maybe I will get even more of a charge out of seeing Kings Cross under construction. The area around it is already revitalized, the office-canal-restaurant-theater development next door signaling what will happen when the station is complete. Not that it matters. All that counts is that the thing is the object of love and investment. Yes, Kings Cross is a soot-blackened relic of the 19th century. And now, in the 21st century, Britons took 1.3 billion rail trips last year. Since they all crowded into stations, why not make the experience slightly more pleasant? Yes, there is a future. And as for the present, there are 300 miles between London and Newcastle and the trains cover them in less than three hours. Which isn’t about the future but a better present, as far as I am concerned. And I am thinking of having a pre-trip pain au chocolat that fine morning in the Euston Road. Heated.
As for Budle Bay, Northumberland…I anticipate something wilder and quieter than much of my UK experience. More remote than in Gloucestershire, my travels being rather limited. Colder than Somerset, I suppose. Either way, it’s good to have a partner who is a built-in guide. It’s good to have a partner period. Since living there in my 20s, I have vaguely wondered if I might return to Britain. Now with Jane around, I return to Britain at home. The point has become moot. The door remains open.